Shadow Shinjuku by Ryu Takeshi

The streets of Tokyo are different at night. There is darkness behind the glitter and the neon lights, and people who prefer to stay in the shadows, to dwell in the underworld – whores, gangsters, the homeless, the lost. People like Sato. He’s part of this world, he always has been, but a feeling of change is lingering in the heavy air of the bustling city. A feeling brought to life by fateful encounters of solitary souls.

Shadow Shinjuku is a dark, yet magical journey into the depths of Tokyo’s nightlife and the depths of the human soul. Ryu Takeshi’s first novel is both a noir crime thriller and urban fantasy. It’s a unique and mesmerizing blend of the imagery of Japanese animation and film, the colors and details of street photography, and the mystical lyricism of soulful music. But above everything, it is a gripping story that doesn’t let go. (Taken from Amazon)

Sometimes I read a book that gives me pause, one that is thought-provoking and so unique that my brain takes a while to come to conclusions. Shadow Shinjuku is such a book. It is immersive and detailed, full of dark corners and complex ideas. 

I really can’t remember reading another book that even mentions the Yakuza, so everything was new to me. I went into this book with eyes wide with curiosity, and my curiosity was rewarded with beautiful descriptions and fascinating locations. 

Shadow Shinjuku is ostensibly an urban fantasy with a splash of noir, set in the unexplored corners of Tokyo. Sato went from living on the streets to killing for the Yakuza family (who rescued him from said streets) but ends up questioning the direction his life has taken, leading to an introspective book that is more inner musing than anything else. That isn’t a bad thing, but it was unexpected. I had to make an “expectation shift”, tossing aside everything I erroneously assumed this book to be. 

I have to admit that I didn’t like Sato. His unflinching openness about things I don’t normally read in books was a little off-putting, although it added a layer of grittiness to the book and made him a more complex character. He also failed at the most basic of human emotions, so there’s that. Sato was deeply flawed, which made him interesting. I am one of those people who don’t need to like a character or relate to them to enjoy a book, so the fact that I didn’t like Sato wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. 

There was a bit of a supernatural aspect to the book, although at the end of the day it really wasn’t the part of the book that stood out to me. While the magical bits didn’t detract from the book, I would almost say that they aren’t necessary. 

A good chunk of Shadow Shinjuku was meandering, taking its time and focusing on an inner journey, rather than on action. The build-up is not rushed, so if you are the sort of person who wants a quick beginning, this book is not for you. This is a book unlike others I’ve read and, while my thoughts on it defy a “like” or “dislike” categorization, I like to think this is what the author was going for. 

Gritty yet beautiful, complicated but with common themes of loyalty and what we do for those we consider family, Shadow Shinjuku was a study in contradictions. Pick this up if you like introspective characters, and living, pulsing settings. 

*Review originally published on Before We Go Blog

6 thoughts on “Shadow Shinjuku by Ryu Takeshi

  1. Very often the Asiatic literature approach of character arcs and plot-lines curse with the western writing style. The so called “redemption -arcs” are quasi non existent and happy endings are rare. There are many tales where the main protagonists reach their goal by either dying or sacrificing a chunk of their moral integrity.

    Liked by 1 person

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